Physio’s Take On The Chaos Of Mid-1980s Wolves
Denis Conyerd knew it was time to bail out of Wolves when, on call 24/7 and too busy to have days off, he was asked by Tommy Docherty to work longer hours.
He immediately wrote his resignation letter but it failed to reach the manager because he had dispensed with his assistant Jim Barron and youth coach Frank Upton in the meantime.
Such goings-on could only have happened at the basket-case club Molineux housed in the mid-1980s…the one who were relegated three seasons in a row and who were very nearly out as well as down.
Few possess a clearer, more relevant overview of the bleakness and gallows humour of the time than Conyerd, who served as physio from 1982 to 1986 and bore full witness to the almost permanent fighting of raging fires.
“I had been working in the field in private practice when a friend told us the club were looking for someone,” he recalled.
“The fact they didn’t have a physio at the time (after John Malam) was an illustration of how far they had fallen and my wife, Carol, encouraged me to go for the post. I think it was the next day I put my suit on and went in to see Derek Dougan for what I thought would be an interview.
“But he took me down to the treatment room, where John Richards was at the front of a queue of about seven players waiting to be seen. So I got busy rightaway, with Graham Hawkins looking on and talking to me as I worked on the lads.
“Derek was excellent with me and just talked money later and told me to feel proud of being the club’s physio.
“Coming from a family of Wolves fans in Wolverhampton, I was thrilled and the promotion we somehow managed to win under Graham in that first season was an exciting and rewarding experience.”
Alas, the joy of the return to Division One did not last long. The story of the high-profile summer shopping list the holidaying Hawkins left for chairman Dougan has been told before and the over-achieving manager was shocked when he returned from a break in the sun to be presented instead with only Rotherham winger Tony Towner – a player in whom he had no interest.
“He had barely heard of him if I remember right and I recall Tony refusing to wear shin pads,” Conyerd added. “He sustained a nasty gash to his shin in one game and, as if he wasn’t feeling uncomfortable enough, he was told by Graham he was being fined for leaving himself open to that sort of injury.”
As the spiral gathered pace, Hawkins was succeeded by Docherty, who arrived to a wise-cracking fanfare – remember his one-liner about the Japanese prisoner-of-war jumping out when the doors of Molineux’s trophy cabinet were swung open?
Within a few weeks, the Scot had exposed himself to allegations of nepotism by installing his son, Michael, in his coaching team and getting rid of Barron and Upton, both of whom were highly enough thought of as to continue to work long and well at a succession of other clubs.
“Michael still seemed to have too much of a player’s mentality to make a good coach,” Denis insists. “I have stayed friendly with Jim and may therefore be biased but I can’t help thinking Wolves lost two good men there.
“When you look now at how crowded the dug-outs are, it’s incredible to think it was basically Graham, Jim, me and one substitute. And Jim could always be relied upon to give me a dig in the ribs if I had missed seeing a player picking up an injury.
“I soon realised, though, that I could no longer afford to be following the ball. When two opponents went into a challenge, my eyes stayed on the Wolves player to make sure he got back to his feet and wasn’t limping.
“It was an incredibly time-consuming job because we had four teams and I was expected to keep all those players as fit and healthy as I could. The lads and manager had Wednesdays off but there were always injuries to attend to, so I never had a day off – I was in on Sundays as well to attend to knocks and other problems from the day before.
“Add to that the calls you would have at strange times of the day or evening – it might be someone like John Burridge saying he had tightness in his back – and you were always on stand-by.
“So I was stunned when Tommy called me in to tell me of his plans. You always knew when his eyes started flickering and he struggled to look directly at you that he was either delivering bad news or something that you might have questioned as being totally truthful.
“He said he wanted me to work longer hours and I asked him where he wanted me to find them from. It basically boiled down to the fact I might be expected to go to Middlesbrough with the reserves on a Monday night for example, have a few hours sleep and then prepare for a first-team trip to London.
“I decided I couldn’t accept that condition, so I wrote my resignation letter and took it to the ground to hand to him. A couple of the lads asked to see me and I had to tell them what I was doing and could not attend to them.
“I couldn’t find Tommy because he had just sacked Jim and Frank, so I carried on in the meantime. And when I did see him the following day, he started to step back from what he had said earlier and was agreeing to leave things as they were.”
Conyerd soldiered on until Wolves bottomed out in the summer of 1986 with their second lapse into administration. He had had the benefit of good working relationships with Hibbitt, Richards, Clarke, Eves and others who were close to the exit door.
He had also played a part in the Molineux nurturing of John Humphrey, Tim Flowers and John Pender – players destined to have excellent careers away from the West Midlands.
But we sign off a piece we have thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing by disclosing a memory of the physio’s from Andy Gray’s sale to Everton in November, 1983.
“Andy’s medical file was a lot more substantial than everyone else’s – probably three or four inches thick after all his injuries, operations and x-rays,” he added.
“He lived just off the A41 towards Cosford and because I was not too far away, Graham asked if I would take it to him the night before his move.
“I handed it to him on the doorstep and assumed he was too busy finalising everything to invite me in. It was only when he appeared on a show with Ron Atkinson many years later that I learned he and his wife had gone through the folder and decided which parts they wanted Everton and possibly his other future clubs to see and which items were best thrown on the fire!
“As it was, I had a surgeon from up there ringing me to ask how long I thought Andy had left as a player – and then knocking a year or two off my estimate because of what the medical there had shown.”
If Conyerd thought that, by leaving in 1986, he had heard the last of Wolves in a professional sense, he was wrong. There was one more ‘threat’ from them to the life of relative normality he had by now resumed in private practice.
“Graham Turner asked me to go back,” he revealed. “But I was burned out and just couldn’t face it any more.”
In thanking Denis for sharing his anecdotes and photo collection – many taken by his cousin Malcolm – we also wish him all the very best for the ongoing cancer battle he has been waging in recent years.